Veterans from The Villages Take Their Honor Flight


“It wasn’t just a really nice experience. It just changed everything in my life.”

Even though Howard Newhoff was stationed in Washington, he’d never had the fortitude to go see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. That is until May of 2022 when he traveled there as part of Villages Honor Flight Mission 52.

“All the hostility, all the anger, all the negative feelings I had about the war went away. And I really felt for the first time that people cared that I was over there,” said Newhoff. “I never got tired of the expression, ‘Thank you for your service,’ to this day.”

It’s a phrase not all veterans heard following their service, and it’s the sentiment at the heart of the Villages Honor Flight, Inc. (VHF) organization. Formed in July of 2011, the nonprofit operates as one of 125 hubs of the national nonprofit Honor Flight Network with one simple mission – to honor all who served during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and veterans of any service era who are critically ill. The organization is run by volunteers and funded by donations.

In September of 2023, Growing Bolder joined the VHF for Mission 59. Sixty-six veterans ranging in service from World War II to the Gulf War were accompanied by an all-volunteer staff consisting of 66 guardians, six medical staff, a seven-person flight mission team, as well as two videographers and two still photographers.

Departing from The Villages, the group flew on a chartered flight from the Orlando Sanford International Airport to Baltimore-Washington Airport. From there, three chartered buses carried the group to Arlington National Cemetery, the Air Force Memorial, and the National Mall for visits to the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam war memorials, all at no cost to the veterans or volunteers.

At 96, Mel Kohn was the oldest to make the trip. He turned 18 in boot camp, the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The vast number of graves in Arlington National Cemetery brought Kohn to tears, and the WWII memorial connected him to the battles that were fought while he was stateside.

“I’ve seen pictures of this, but to experience it firsthand was really… awesome is the word,” Kohn said. “How can somebody imagine a design like this? It’s just fascinating.

“These young people today, they have no concept of what we experienced back then and the way the country came together. As Roosevelt said, the day lives in infamy itself. It certainly did, but we’ve got to keep remembering it. And that’s what this does. It keeps bringing it to our attention.”

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall left an impression on many veterans as well. Former ships engineer Bob Ratliff served on the USS Bainbridge, a nuclear-powered destroyer. “It’s just an awful lot of those names up there. People…my age…that didn’t come home. I guess that’s the best I know to describe how it feels,” shared Ratliff, choking back tears. “There’s a saying for that war that says, ‘All gave some and some gave all.’ It was a brutal, brutal war.”

Buzz Cackowsky was a member of the Brown Water Navy during the Vietnam War. Until now he had avoided seeing the names of men he served with on the wall. Mission 59 was his first visit. “For me, just to come here and see it and feel it was what I really needed. The idea that if more people would understand, freedom isn’t free. It’s got a great price, and that’s a reminder to me.”

Each veteran is paired with a guardian who provides social companionship throughout the trip and physical

support if needed. Cackowsky was accompanied by Dani Hon. “This is what makes it all worthwhile,” Hon said. “It’s not about me, it’s all about him today. And that’s what I love to be able to do. That’s how we can truly say thank you for your service and thank you for your sacrifice.”

The veterans return home the same day, with festive homecoming welcomes at the airport and at American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake, FL. Each veteran receives a yearbook and a DVD with video and photos documenting the trip.

Mission 59 was Liza Walters’ 16th time as a flight director and 30th mission overall. “It’s always a new experience, no matter how many times you do it,” Walters said. “Of course, there are different people involved and you hear different stories and it’s just wonderful.

“The goal with this mission is the same as with all missions, to bring the vets back happy with big smiles on their faces and telling us that this was the most wonderful day of their lives, which frequently happens.”

Approximately 10,000 veterans live in The Villages. Many of them have been recognized, but most of them haven’t. The VHF wants to recognize them all, whether they’ve seen combat or sat at a desk in Washington. All have made some sacrifice. “Whether you serve one day in the military or whether you’ve served 28 years like I have, Honor Flight is something you want to do,” Newhoff said.

Newhoff’s Honor Flight experience was so impactful that he joined the VHF and serves as the coordinator of their speakers bureau. If you’re a veteran interested in making an Honor Flight trip, visit to find a hub near you and apply.

This article is featured in the Winter 2023 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.

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